Literary Triage: Fighting Floodwaters With a Teaspoon

on Thursday, February 28, 2013
There comes a time in every reader's life when they must concede that, no matter how hard they may try, no matter how much they put the real world on hold to prove otherwise, they simply cannot read every book ever written. Much harder to accept, however, is the fact that they can't even read all the books they might want to read.

I resigned myself to the first point quite a while ago. The second, I am begrudgingly coming to accept now. Check out my current backlog of "high priority" titles and weep:

I've read twenty nine books so far this year and I've barely made a dint in the stack. And it gets worse. As the literary levee prepares to break for 2013, I now realise that I won't be able to read all the amazing books that are about to come out in the next month, let alone the rest of the year. I've already set aside March 7 as Coetzee Day, a special holiday that comes around every few years to celebrate a new release from The World's Greatest Living Author (In Anticipation of a Return To Glory)TM. I'm seriously considering instituting a William H. Gass Day too - at 89 years old, I figure the old codger deserves a bit of fanfare any time he graces us with some new pages. So that's the 12th of March gone right there for Middle C. Chuck in Javier Marias Day (March 8 for The Infatuations, only because Coetzee has already claimed his actual release day) and the Feast of Mohsin Hamid (28 March for How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia), and I've got the month pockmarked with days on which I shall be hanging a sock from my doorknob to politely indicate that I am not to be disturbed.

Looking back on my pile and then on to the horizon, I am both elated and dismayed by this act of triage that I've been forced to undertake. So many good books, so little time. And somewhere in amongst it all I want to write - the children's book I've been commissioned to do and "the novel" that has been clinging to my back with its gnarled claws for the past three years. I now get the appeal of religions that believe in reincarnation. If it wasn't for the likelihood I'd come back as a dung beetle, I'd totally sign up!

Microviews Vol. 23: Marry Me Kurt Vonnegut!

on Friday, February 22, 2013
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut's recurring anti-hero (and hack author) Kilgore Trout heads off on a cross-country trek, unwittingly set to collide with the one reader who takes his shitty sci-fi musings literally. Along the way, Vonnegut manages to successfully skewer pretty much everything he can in this riotous romp through post-war American society and culture.
4 out of 5 Comicons

The Train by Georges Simenon
Simenon was at his bleak best when not writing about Maigret, his most famous creation. In this strange novel of dislocation, a man flees Nazi-occupied Belgium only to find himself an accidental refugee when his train is diverted and he is separated from his wife and daughter. Despair makes strange bedfellows, literally, and he falls for a mysterious fellow passenger. No happy endings here, just extreme moral bankruptcy. A difficult, angry novel.
4 out of 5 Tent Cities

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
Everyone's got to start somewhere and in this, his debut, Vonnegut goes for the big one: the meaning of life. His answer? A rather unsettling, moderately funny gag that makes no less sense than any traditional explanation. Uncanny madness.
3 out of 5 Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulums (or is that Infundibula?)

The President by Georges Simenon
Portrait of a leader as an old man. Simenon captures the raging impotence of a semi-fictional French ex-prez watching his arch nemesis ascend to the throne. The old guy has a secret that can ruin him, or so he thinks. Beware the pats on the back, they just might be clutching daggers.
3.5 out of 5 Purloined Letters

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
A biblical book of the Apocalypso, this, to my mind, is Vonnegut's crowning achievement. Pips Dr. Strangelove as the greatest artistic response to nuclear-age paranoia. Sadly, it remains just as relevant as it was fifty years ago.
5 out of 5 Bokonons

Marry Me by Dan Rhodes
Romantics steer clear! Pithy, often hilarious nuggets of unsentimental nastiness from the master of minute malice. Probably should have been called Divorce Me.
3 out of 5 Elvis Chapels

Microviews Vol. 22: Grandma Goes To War With Peter Jackson

on Thursday, February 7, 2013
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Mathis swings like an experimental jazz cat in this collection of interlinked stories about one African American family in the midst (and wake) of the Great Migration. Sometimes smooth and quiet, other times explosive and angry, Twelve Tribes might not be worthy of quite so much hype (thanks a lot Oprah) but it's still one pretty damn fine debut!
3.5 out of 5 Charlie Parkers

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey
A very cute novella in the vein of The Curious Incident Of The Dog in The Nighttime or All My Friends Are Superheroes. Filled throughout with gorgeous artwork that is as much part of the story as the text it accompanies, you will quickly forgive the slightly derivative nature of Silvey's tale and give in to its raw charm.
4 out of 5 Petrified Spiders

The Panda Theory by Pascal Garnier
It's simple. Man enters town. Man befriends locals. Man explodes in an orgy of violence so unexpected that the reader will be left scratching their head and rubbing their bellies at the same time. Garnier is a fantastic find for 2013, but if you can make sense of the last twenty pages, you're a better person than me.
3.5 out of 5 Carnie Prizes

How's The Pain? by Pascal Garnier
Simon, an ageing assassin, befriends young Bernard then convinces the kid to drive him cross country so that he can fulfil his final mission. Along the way they acquire some unexpected companions, dabble clumsily in affairs of the heart and fill a couple of folk with lead. A dark but ultimately warm-hearted crime thriller.
4 out of 5 Rose Thorns

The Stand by Steven King
Allow me to distill this monster epic to its essence. A moderately scary guy picked up from the cutting room floor of a Cormac McCarthy novel goes to war with my great great grandmother in an America ravaged by a killer flu. Cue Armageddon Americana. The end. Widely considered King's greatest work, The Stand is reasonably engaging but about 800 pages too long. I'm surprised Peter Jackson has resisted making it into a trilogy.
3 out of 5 Infected Tissues